How to fish around pesky predators

We should talk about this at some point. I know, I know, it’s, but there’s no way around one of the coolest and most annoying species to a bass fisherman on the water—pike. Since I’ve been up north so much lately, I figured this is as good of a time as any.

Northern guys can relate. Southerners, let’s talk about pike. I don’t mean the chain pickerel that hang around in Alabama or Tennessee. I mean the big, northern, toothy critters that the British guy chases on TV. First, they’re awesome. Second, they’re really frustrating to fish around. I want to share a few tips for bass fishing around them for those of you who like to tempt fate in their waters. 

In my last blog, I mentioned pike in passing. Most anglers know that they’re hyper-aggressive. They’ll rip up your spinnerbaits, tear through soft plastics and demolish any hardbaits in their path. And, they like to hang around schools of smallmouth too. Bottom line: You’re going to feel your stomach sink around a school of them. Want to run a grass line with a spinnerbait? Pike will eat your lunch. Feel like tossing a jerkbait? You better have deep pockets.

I’ve found this to be especially true on lakes like Champlain and Cayuga. Cayuga, for real, is full of them. 

Most of the time, if I catch a pike, I turn the other way and use them as a sort of natural barrier. Often, I find a school of bass in the opposite direction. But sometimes that doesn’t work, either because the bass I want to catch are around the pike or because I’m being hard-headed like most fishermen.

If you want a way to fish around them, try a steel leader. That will reduce the action on your bait some, which is why I don’t use them, but at least you’ll be able to fish around them. You’ll be able to catch the pike and not lose your bait; they won’t bite you off. You can pick those up a most tackle stores up north or order them online. They’re not as thick as bulky saltwater wires and most are even designed to minimize the impact on hardbait action. Still, there’s a reason many guys fish with a ton of soft plastics up here, and part of it is the dent predator fish can put on your wallet.

When I’m fishing up north, pike are annoying, but there’s one species that will make anyone nervous in a tournament situation. My eyes are always on the lookout for muskie.

Todd Faircloth told me a story about a large muskie that grabbed a 5-pound smallmouth repeatedly at St. Clair when he won there in 2015. I’ve had them boil at my boat, and I’ve had them eat smallmouth that were right beside me before taking off. A lot of guys lose fish to them; I hear stories every time we fish St. Clair.

I respect muskie, but once they’ve locked on to your fish, there’s nothing you can do.

I’ve really got no answer for you there. Wire leaders are supposed to help, but what do you do when a 5-footer has your bass?

Luckily, muskie aren’t as prevalent as its smaller cousin, the pike. But that doesn’t stop me from freaking out when I’ve got a big smallmouth on the line. Smallies like to run far, and because I sometimes  have to fight them on light line, I’m always aware that a muskie can come up like a shark and snatch a fish that could be worth thousands of dollars or more. 

For a guy that grew up in California and lives in Alabama, toothy predators make fishing up north really exciting. But there’s also a danger that your prized fish could be mauled at any moment— just something to think about the next time you dream of catching northern smallmouth.

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